On a spindly island in the South Pacific that juts out of the sea like a spearhead, a giant long thought extinct whiles away its days under the frail branches of a single melaleuca bush. There are maybe twenty Lord Howe Island stick insects living on the lonely rock as of now, high up on the cliffside—the only known wild population left on Earth.
After their native island saw a rat invasion that effectively wiped out the species, these “tree lobsters” somehow found their way to Ball Island. There they’ve subsisted in the mud under the melaleuca(s) since at least the early 1900s. And now, with the help of a breeding program undertaken on mainland Australia, the species is raring to make a comeback.
Down in Florida, an invasive member of the melaleuca genus is wreaking havoc on the Everglades, sopping up the “River of Grass” with its thirsty habit. But its relative on Ball Island seems to have earned itself a few commendations for being the last refuge of a desperate species. Sure, they’re tree lobsters—the hearty stuff of nightmares for some—but conservation should never be a beauty contest. —MN